Lemon Flame Retardant
By Markus Haastert and Anne-Kathrin Kuhlemann
Background: Increasing Demand for a Toxic Product
The world market for fire and flame retardants is currently at USD 6-7 billion dollars per annum, already above the level that studies from the year 2011 estimated the market to reach in 2018. Demand for flame retardants had been heaviest in Asia Pacific region due to significant growth in infrastructure in the past few years. China alone accounts for approximately 24% of the global demand. However, North America and Western Europe continue to be the second and third highest demanding regions. The movement towards environmental protection awareness and increased safety regulations in these two regions has begun a trend away from the harmful halogenated products which previously dominated the market.
Halogenated flame retardants have been linked to cancer, immune and endocrine disruption, adverse reproductive and neurodevelopmental effects, and reproductive abnormalities. Over the years, increasing levels of concentration of several flame retardants have been found in blood and even breast milk; in the case of fire, many retardant actually develop highly toxic dioxins. With these health risks, it is interesting to note that most flame retardants are found in residential buildings. They are used in thermal insulation and energy efficiency materials, in pipe and cable plastic, and in the foam in mattresses and sofas. The transportation industry has also greatly increased demand for high-performance, flame retardant plastics. It is expected that the next big push for flame retardants will occur in the electronics sector, where smartphone and tablet producers are already demanding flame retardant materials with less environmental impact.
Environmental organizations have been campaigning for reduction of brominated flame retardants for several years, and governments have responded by setting new standards for flammability. The market for halogenated flame retardants is losing market shares to healthier, more environmentally friendly products. Phosphorous-based products are on the rise in China but halogenated flame retardants still currently dominate the market. Inorganic, mineral-based Aluminiumtrihydrate (ATH) compounds account for about half of total market volume in North America and Western Europe. As of November 2014, California revised it’s standard on flame retardants, opening the door for innovators to enter the market.
Innovation: Sustainable, Non-Toxic Solution Involving Citrus Antioxidants
Swedish inventor, Mats Nilsson has already introduced a solution based on food grade chemicals. His patented “Molecular Heat Eaters” (MHE) are based on the theory that the amount of energy released during an acid-base reaction, determines the amount of energy needed to degrade an earlier reaction.
In the simplest terms, MHE binds oxygen to form water using salts. The ions produced are called cations. The carbon they provide builds char faster and generates CO2 which is non-flammable. Deprived of oxygen, the fire is trapped and doesn’t spread. The MHE can be manufactured from grape pomace and citrus fruits, and produce biodegradable liquids, gels or powders. The small size of these salts increases the surface area, increasing the speed of the reaction and decreasing the total amount of fire retardant required.
Seeing the profit potential in his newly created non-toxic, biodegradable, environmentally friendly product, Mats Nilsson created Trulstech AB, a Swedish company that evolved into Biomimetic Technology Ltd. in Australia. MHE has been touted as a low carbon, non-toxic, eco-friendly, sustainable flame retardant. The base of the retardant being fruits and food grade chemicals means any chemicals would be similar to what consumers would find in their daily foodstuff, which in turn should reduce the health risks associated with other major fire-retardant chemicals. Trulstech states on its website that the majority of MHE’s products can be sourced easily and locally almost anywhere in the world. This makes the option cost effective to manufacturers and a viable option for consideration when trying to be more eco-friendly but maintain a competitive business. This makes the innovation more than just a discovery; it is a viable solution for multiple marketplaces.
The Potential: Revolutionize Multiple Industries with a Non-Toxic, Cost Competitive Option
Biomimetic has managed to win a major worldwide innovation award every year between 2003 and 2013, including an Energy globe award for MHE in 2010. Its Swedish partner, Deflamo AB, is listed in Stockholm to manufacture the ingredients strictly for the European market. The companies have jointly been working on how the flame retardant works with cellulose wool and PU foam. Other companies have popped up as well. UK based Yaaparra is selling MHE to manufacturers. Bulgarian company Lubrica offers an MHE based fire-retardant hydraulic fluid.
While currently the flame retardant seems to be utilized in fire-safety and lubrication equipment, there is no shortage of applications for the MHE. Trulstech itself notes that the following industries are prime areas of focus for MHE innovation:
- Cellulose Wool, PVC film, PU Foam, and EPDM-rubber for construction
- Kraft paper for furniture
- Canvas for tent production
- Viscose for textiles
- Commercial Cotton for curtains and clothing
- Polyester fibre for acoustic applications.
- PVC-emulsion aimed for commercial product applications.
An American Department of Defense paper has recently recognized the need for biomimetic-based flame retardant materials for combat uniforms. The paper specifically notes that public awareness globally on recycling and the impact of chemicals on human health make it necessary for new flame-retardant materials to be derived from natural products such as plants. The focus is on keeping the properties required for military applications but providing a non-toxic flame-retardant solution. The non-military applications for such materials would prove lucrative in the clothing or baby products industries.
In the UK, scientists at the National Institute of Agricultural Botany in Cambridge have been researching the potential of MHE using rosemary instead of citrus. The scientists have already noted there are far-reaching potential applications including, all types of food packaging, plastic manufacturing, and a change in oil-based manufacturing. There is excitement about the fully sustainable production of degradable and bio-based plastics. Their current belief is that rosemary antioxidants will work as well as, or in some cases better than, the citrus based antioxidants currently being used.
MHE is already competitive in price and performance. A few savvy business people have begun moving the product into major manufacturing industries and national defense and science centers around the globe see the need and practicality of using this non-toxic option. With the increased restrictions on flame retardant materials, it seems to be only a matter of time before entrepreneurs bring this innovation to numerous other industries.
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